How much more can Dhoni's body and mind take?
There are management gurus and researchers waiting to map MS Dhoni's brain so they can understand how India's most successful captain's mind works - how he manages to synchronise his thoughts into ideas and then into deeds. One of India's leading business schools wants to use the research as part of a neuromanagement course they plan to introduce. They might also try and find out, for research purposes, just how tired that brain is after the rigours and grind it has gone through since Dhoni became the leader of the Indian cricket team in all forms.
From 2009 till date Dhoni has played more top-level cricket (see sidebar) than any other cricketer, if you put the IPL and Champions League Twenty20 in that bracket. He has played 24 Tests, 61 ODIs, 16 Twenty20 internationals and 49 matches for Chennai Super Kings over three IPLs and a Champions League Twenty20. His closest contender in terms of workload is Kumar Sangakkara, who stepped down as Sri Lanka captain after the World Cup, and has logged 20 Tests, 61 ODIs, 24 Twenty20 internationals and 40 IPL games since 2009. Matt Prior might have played more international cricket than those two players - 33 Tests, 35 ODIs and five T20 internationals - but does not have the rigours of marquee Twenty20 tournaments to worry about.
If you further dissect Dhoni's schedule you wonder how the man has been able to continue walking, let alone squat, heave bats, keep a smile on his face while leading India to the No.1 position in Tests, lift gongs like the World Cup, the IPL title (twice) and the Champions League Twenty20.
Dhoni has the onerous task of leading four teams, which include so many players from different places, in three different formats, in addition to carrying out his wicketkeeping duties. A captain, a man-manager, a strategist, a wicketkeeper, a brand ambassador, a husband, a friend, an idol; Dhoni has to play all those roles convincingly, and at times, all at one go. Now you know the reason behind his increasing grey-hair count.
The trend is set to continue. India's schedule for the 12 months from May 2011 contains 125 days of work: 17 Tests, 36 ODIs and four Twenty20 internationals. In contrast, England play 12 Tests, 20 ODIs and eight Twenty20 internationals. With the BCCI reluctant to bench their most-marketable brand, Dhoni could either hope for a miracle or will be forced to call it quits in one of the formats.
It does not take an analyst to tell you that quantity can impact quality. This year, Dhoni has played in 21 international matches across all formats, and scored 472 runs with a top score of 91 not out, achieved in the World Cup final. In England so far his scores in the Tests read 28, 16, 5 and 0. In the tour match in Northampton he made just two runs before walking back in the face of taunts such as "Dhoni, what was that", having edged a half-hearted stroke to the wicketkeeper. Those figures seem ridiculous for someone who was once an impact player.
But India need Dhoni to stand strong and govern the lower order, which has been pathetic in comparison to England's. Dhoni feels the problem is more mental than technical. Men like Paddy Upton, India's mental conditioning coach during the years Gary Kirsten was coach, are confident about Dhoni's ability to bounce back.
"His workload is unbelievable and the level of performance he has delivered despite that is unbelievable" Upton says. "Dhoni is a warrior. Warriors don't complain. I certainly know there were times where he was fatigued but he soldiered on. He accepted what his responsibility was and also he probably realised the impact on other people. Dhoni would drop dead before he said he couldn't go on anymore."
It is easy to see that Dhoni is a bit distracted by the pressures of the ever-increasing-never-ending-workload. You can see him fluffing easy picks behind the wicket, which has also had an impact on the slip fielders. "I would imagine it is," Upton said about Dhoni being affected by the multiple roles he needs to perform efficiently. "But by the same token he will deliver. If anybody else had gone through what he has gone through their slump would have started a long time earlier and lasted a lot longer."
As for the mind-mapping gurus, they can only guess the vastness of the project they aim to undertake.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo